Dan Brennan and Ken Hahn (‘Genius: Aretha’ sound mixers) on being ‘true to the space, but true to the song also’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“The whole team worked so hard on the project so it’s really nice to get the recognition on such a music and sound-heavy project,” says Dan Brennan, one of the Emmy-nominated sound mixers for National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha” starring Cynthia Erivo. Brennan shares his nomination with Emmy winners Ken Hahn and Jay Meagher. Watch Brennan and Hahn’s exclusive video interview with Gold Derby above.

“Genius: Aretha” chronicles the life of Aretha Franklin from a young gospel singer in Detroit to a rising superstar who was eventually crowned the “Queen of Soul.” The sound mixing team acknowledges the added pressure to bring authenticity to the screen for this icon’s story. “Part of it is peoples’ memories of the songs,” explains Hahn. “The memories of when they heard them and what they were doing and who they were with. That changes the feeling. Where they are now being performed, whether it be on the stage, in the studio or in rehearsal, that changes too. We try to be true to the space, but true to the song also. This show is unique in that it is not just a music show. It’s almost a documentary of her life. Jumping from dialogue to big music, you want every word to be heard but you want the music to pop out too.”

“So much credit goes to Cynthia,” adds Brennan. “She leans into the first couple of songs and I was just like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be fine.’ We were already in good shape just where she was at. The bulk of the songs were recorded live on set so Jay Meagher did a great job capturing it, Cynthia killed the performance. In a show like this it would almost always be either pre-record or we would post-record it after just to get it clean. She just went for it. I think it sells the intimacy. It comes across really authentic. That makes it really special.”

A key element to pulling the live performances together was mixing the music with the audience reaction. “Music doesn’t take place in a vacuum,” Hahn explains. “It’s not necessarily about the music. In particular with the gospel stuff, the audience reaction is feeding the singer. The singer is feeding the audience. They’re almost on equal setting. Audience participation is key to how she grew up with music and you see it reflected in her lyrics. A lot of the music is call and response just like she did in the church. When we’re in the studio we pull it back and make it a little more isolated.”

This is Hahn’s 15th Emmy nomination. He has won six to date including four Primetime Emmys (“Great Performances: Dance in America” in 1983, “Music for the Movies: The Hollywood Sound” in 1996, “9/11” in 2002 and “Live from Lincoln Center” in 2016) and two Daytime Emmys (“Pee-wee’s Playhouse” in 1987 and “3-2-1 Contact” in 1989). It is Meagher’s fourth nomination with a previous win for “John Adams” in 2008. Brennan has one prior nomination for “Fahrenheit 451” in 2018. “Genius: Aretha” earned additional Emmy nominations for Erivo as Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie and Dondraico Johnson for Best Choreography for Scripted Programming.

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